Once the weather is warm enough, one of my favorite past times is going to the flea market. For me the flea represents the entire spectrum of human endeavor — from ingenious to trendy — remember Big Mouth Billy Bass? It’s a treasure trove of materials from across the decades and an endless source of inspiration for an artist. I love the process of finding things. My eye scans a table and is caught by color, shape, and texture – a coin, a button, a piece of hardware, pottery, or a textile. As I see these things the underlying question I ask myself is “Can I use them?”
Here are 8 of my best flea tips for a fun and successful experience:
- Go with an idea of what you’re looking for, but keep an open mind. Last weekend, I was looking for 16mm silver beads. I found a pair of old earrings that had them. It’s important to have an idea, whether it’s a color, or a material. If you know what you seek, it will be easier to find it.
- Be willing to take something apart if only part of it is usable. Be creative, use the usable part and repurpose or donate the other. Ask yourself a question – how could I use this? Then, start to think creatively. Look at things not as they are, but as they could be. This takes practice. An antique ceiling fixture flipped upside down can become candelabra.
- Practice going because it takes time to develop an eye. Take a list with you. Sometimes you will find things that you didn’t know you were looking for. My friend Mark’s voice popped into my head when I saw a great pair of practically new patent leather stilettos that I didn’t know I needed until I saw them. Price tag $1.00.
- Come prepared with a tape measure. If you find a piece of furniture that you may want on a whim, this can come in handy.
- Carry small bills. If you’re trying to bargain for something that costs $4.00 and you whip out a $50 you’ve put yourself at a disadvantage. $1 at the flea market is like $10 in the real world. Carry a lot of $5’s and $1’s. Forget the credit cards and the checks.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a vendor if you’re looking for something. I have become a regular at a local flea market and many of my vendors now scout things for me.
- Bargain politely. Part of the fun of flea marketing is the bargaining. You can do it, but do it politely so you don’t offend. Say, “I want to be respectful for your need to make a profit, but would you consider offering a discount? I would be most grateful if you would accept [make an offer].” Make an offer that may be a happy medium and use your manners. Products are sold as-is, but you may be able to negotiate around a ding or a chip. Know that the product is there because the vendor has spent their precious time finding it.
- The vendors are your friends. Establish good relationships with vendors that carry the types of things you are looking for. Compliment them on their offerings and recognize the successful results of their hunts. Ask them to tell you the story behind the object.
The best thing about going to a flea market is that you will gain an appreciation for the inventiveness and the excesses of humankind because it is all there. You will see things that you can’t believe people bothered to make and also find incredible things that you can’t believe people were capable of making. There’s not just one kind of person who goes to the flea – it’s a cross section of humanity and everyone has a story. For me the flea is a contemporary cultural museum of the ad hoc.
Do you have any of your own flea market suggestions or stories to add? Share them below; I’d love to hear them.